Thursday, 28 October 2010

Registered managers are professionals too

In England public attention given to social work over the last couple of years can only be described as intense. In response, the Social Work Taskforce has set up a Reform Board that is overseeing the implementation of a wide set of recommendations to improve the situation.

Central to the proposed reforms is a new set of overarching professional standards. A College of Social Work has been created that has amongst its initial priorities defining the values and purpose of the profession as well as creating those standards.

Meanwhile, the General Social Care Council (GSCC) – whose main accomplishment has been the registration of social workers with protection of job title to standards – has bitten the dust in the QUANGO bonfire. Its functions of regulation of social workers are being moved to the Health Professionals Council (HPC) – apparently to be renamed. And what is the first thing the HPC does? Announce it is to establish proficiency standards for its new professional group.

Meanwhile, the leading professional association for social workers (BASW) seems more concerned with political positioning than with promoting its code of ethics and making sense of standards for its members.

This is not just an internal turf-war - this important to registered managers in children’s services (and indeed adult services) and what relevance to the Institute of Childcare and Social Education (ICSE). Why?

First, the debate is all about social workers – the job title – and not about social work the profession with its discrete knowledge base, skills, roles and tasks and needing clarity of standards. Social work, as a profession, is part of social care. Social care itself is unlikely to be considered a single profession but a grouping of several actual and aspiring professions. Many of these – whilst not social workers – draw on social work and other disciplines in establishing their professional expertise, e.g. registered managers.

Registered managers of children’s homes and other services are professional practitioners that practice using social work and other skills and should have clear standards which are upheld by a valued professional body. In England, they are regulated as part of service regulation by OFSTED and were supposed to have been part of the remit of the axed GSCC. So as it stands, they are not part of the thinking of the College, the HPC or BASW.

Meanwhile, with the demise of the National Centre of Excellence in Residential Child Care (NCERCC), another source of professional support has vanished. Step forward the Institute with the backing of the Social Care Association – a long standing professional association; setting and promoting standards across the work groups in social care (largely residential, day and support at home practitioners).

Second, registered managers of childrens homes have a pretty specifically defined professional role. There is a qualification requirement, there are statutory accountabilities, and there is a knowledge and skill base and an identity. What is lacking: establishment and maintenance of relevant standards and regulation of the role by a professional body. This is a role for a professional association and should be undertaken and led by peers. Again, this could be a role for ICSE and SCA.

Third - and this is important - registered managers are professional risk takers. They are engaged in continually weighing the benefits and harms to children and young people of actions and inactions – primarily of their practitioner staff.

ICSE will be saying more about risk but, suffice it to say here, that it is at the heart of what being a professional is all about – certainly in social work and social care. The touchstone in law is that the gauging of risk, as either reasonable or negligent, is taken from what a body of professionals say, not what employers say or bodies that do not have residential work or children’s services as its focus but a body of peer professionals.

All the messages in England at the moment are that registered managers are not professionals. ICSE and SCA say they are and need to be, if for no other reason, because of the risky nature of their roles and tasks.

We need clarity.

To join ICSE (with built in SCA membership) call 020 8949 5837 or visit our website

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Perverse Productivity

So the coalition wants the views of the 6 million public sector workers – teachers, police, nurses, social workers, and even managers, according to a hesitant Nick Clegg today.

There are over 100,000 managers working in adult social care. They lead a social care workforce of over 1.5 million. These people work in residential homes and provide support to people in their own homes and in the community. They provide a public service much of it with public money. What is not commonly realised is that only a small percentage are actually public sector workers. Most (over a million) are private and voluntary sector workers. They have a lot to contribute to both how savings can be secured and in making it happen. That’s what managers do.

We would like to know their views and opinions on savings and efficiencies in social care. As consultants (we call ourselves Support Advisers whilst consultant is a dirty word) we know that improved productivity in social care perversely costs money. Costs to local government and the service using public that is but saves money in the NHS. We say tackle it in an integrated way and get away from a focus on just the public sector workforce. Social care is one of the biggest financial challenges facing the UK. In our view it will be the workforce and their managers – public, private and voluntary sector – who will have some of the answers.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Language with a bad name

So management is set to join bureaucracy and institutional in social care’s negative box? Institutions are structures and mechanisms of social order and cooperation. Bureaucracy has as its antithesis adhocracy. It is intended to anticipate need and improve efficiency.

Managerialism is castigated as the cause of the bureaucratic inhibition of best social care practice. It is thought likely to lead to and promote institutional thinking and practice. Self-evidently this is not the case. It is leaders who create law, policy and regulation, that set targets and determine how managers and bureaucrats implement in practice. Social care and social work are not different from any other policy area in this respect.

So for Steve Rogowski (Front Line Focus – Community Care 17 June 2010) to say: 'One cannot get away from the fact that the introduction of managerialism from the private sector over the past 30 years has been the key driver in public services, including social work. Such services have had to become more like businesses and operate in ways influenced by them, including social workers needing to be involved in the competitive stimulus of market forces. The result has been managers rather than practitioners, being the main instrument of effective social policy. This has necessitated social workers essentially having to comply with what managers, at the behest of government, required. Hence, we have had to strictly adhere to targets and performance indicators. Put simply, social work success is now measured in terms of whether someone else’s target has been met, rather than being measured by the practitioner and user(s) between themselves' misses the point of how managers should be supported through (good – this word has to be inserted) bureaucracy and institutions. It is the role of leaders nationally and locally to do this for social care.

Like a lot of social workers Steve appears to resent managerial power. He fears that they will carry on... controlling what social workers do. Well of course they will. It is to what purpose they control, how they go about it, their background, training and support that Steve and all of us should be concerned to influence.

In business there is a concept called customer and this is sacrosanct – meeting customer needs at a price they can afford is the key to business success. That applies whether the business is run by practitioners (social work practices), customers (user-led organisations) or managers (bureaucracies). Deviate from that and social care organisations like other businesses will fail.

The problem for social care (and particularly statutory child care and mental health) is that it is not clear who the customer actually is. Leaders in the business give managers mixed messages. This applies whether those managers are in bureaucracies, user-led organisations or in professional practices. If the customer is truly the user of services then they need to have proper purchasing power or what the state says it can afford – personalisation has a model to do this. The role of management is clear in this scenario – to secure the most effective way of meeting service user requirements. If the customer is actually the state (society, communities, the law) then that is a different scenario. Here the manager has to secure the most effective way of meeting what the state determines the service user’s needs to be.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Valuing Language Now?

Our browser has lighted upon a magazine campaigning for equal citizenship for people with learning difficulties. An excellent Spring 2010 edition has a puzzling pair of editorial comments from Elinor Harbridge. Puzzling, that is, in their juxtaposition and in the use of language.

Firstly an entirely justifiable rant about the use of the word ‘retard’ by Vinnie Jones and Davina McCall live on Channel 4. It concludes that "only a public apology will get the message across that some language is deeply offensive to people with learning difficulty".

Second comment about the death of David Askew in Hattersley Greater Manchester – apparently a victim of "the growing problem of disability hate crime". Here Elinor has identified the cause of the problem in one question – "why are gangs of feral children roaming streets?"

Wise up Elinor this is language that is deeply offensive to 11 million children. Some of whom have a learning difficulty. A lesson we at CPEA have taken from undertaking Serious Case Reviews for Safeguarding Adults Boards is that the concept of hate crime is too simplistic and that the lives of perpetrators are often in themselves tortured.